Em(body)ment and Queer Sex

As with many feminist embodiment projects, the text is clearly aligned in Pillage Laud with the (eroticized, female) body. The examples are plentiful, and I open this plateau with a few that draw this parallel most clearly. For the most part, the text seems to suggest that the poems embody the lover’s body (the lyric beloved, but also a common readership connected through the affinitive process of reading). For example, the text reads “you are certain letters” (43), or a page later “You were these comments” (44), and perhaps most strikingly, “where did you leave the pen I last wrote you with” (98).[i] Occasional, the spectral presence of the author or speaker is aligned with language, as on page eighty-one where the text reads: “I was a canvas speaking for the likely word.” Other times, this relationship gets more complicated, wherein the text reminds its readers that there is obviously a separation between body and text, as in this example: “How shall the page sleep? / Your voice was another theorem” (66). Regardless, the text repeatedly asserts that the materiality of language, and its inherent relationship to the physical bodies involved in its production and reception, are integral to the piece as a whole. “The tool of paper,” it reminds us, “is the milligram, and pursues the tale” (70). And, of course, Canadian feminist poetics has a long history of insisting on embodiment, on the relationship between language’s materiality and the female body; Phillis Webb, Daphne Marlatt, Lola Lemire Tostevin, and even Margaret Atwood, have led this charge. What sets Moure apart from these other authors is her relationship to the body and the way that it has historically and literarily been silenced. If my last plateau suggested a complicity with this silence when Moure quips that her “mothertongue is silence,” I should like here to remedy that misconception. After all, Moure famously writes in “Poetry, Memory and the Polis” that “a poetic silence, however lyric, however utopic, is a complicity with the existing order” (206). Instead, Moure asserts throughout her writing that the feminist poet is obliged to write against that silence.

In the same essay, Moure argues that the position of the feminist poet is a difficult one, as the desire to write one’s difference is fraught with the complication that difference necessarily contains within itself the sameness it opposes (203). The way to draw attention to this process is not, as the feminist poets listed above may have suggested, to write through etymology, or through a Cixiousian body politic, but rather to make clear and visible the displacement of the female body in literature (205). This is not to say that Moure rejects that feminist project altogether, but rather that her interest is primarily in remedying displacement through giving it new attention. She tells Bronwen Wallace that her primary interest is in “women searching to inscribe themselves in language, in text, in history” (10). And though she later concedes to Wallace that, as Lacan famously asserted, the symbolic order is phallically based (that is, rooted in the Law of the Father) (41), language can approach the articulation of a feminized eroticism through the diffuse (44), through difference.

Moure’s link to the diffuse, erotic female body has been a major feature in the criticism surrounding her work. For example, in the previously discussed essay by Susan Rudy on Moure and excessive reading, Rudy draws particular attention to Moure’s interrogation of “the ways language is not working in the interests of desiring women” (206). For Rudy, one way that Pillage Laud formally queers language, approaching the diffuse nature of the erotic, is through the inclusion of two-, three-, and four-line couplets (rather than tercets or quattrains), in order to expose the coupling and binarism inherent in poetry (210). While on the whole Rudy’s article is fascinating, this reading seems to me to be a bit too optimistic. After all, the text itself reminds us that “[w]e cannot uncouple this” (Pillage 63). The question of erotic body politic is also approached by Marie Carrière in her chapter “Tracing the (M)Other: Erin Mouré” in Writing in the Feminine in French and English Canada: A Question of Ethics. Here, Carrière also suggests an excessive reading, not simply of the erotic but also of how the diffuse nature of the erotic complicated subjectivity. She writes that Moure “sets out to displace humanist assumptions of self, of other, and of language—what she considers as androcentric guidelines through which ‘the mind knows itself’” (103). For Carrière, Moure’s work “underlines the inadequacy of signification yet also reveals its potentiality” (107), though here she is referring to Furious, an earlier and more traditionally composed collection. Part of this potentiality, then, is the work of showing the fragmentary, diffuse nature of the eroticized female body, fragments that work against phallogocentrism. “In much of Mouré’s writing,” Carrière concludes, “the poetic act of uncovering such ‘fragments’ takes on the form of uncovering memory, often conveyed as a suppressed, maternal element of the psyche” (107). This reading of Moure’s erotic body politic is interesting, too, but it doesn’t take into account the ways in which the indeterminately and digitally produced text of Pillage Laud complicates this embodiment. Can embodiment really happen in a computer-generated poem? And if so, what kind of body are we dealing with?

For Rachel Zolf, Pillage Laud’s computer-generated embodiment is inherently queer, not just because these are “lesbian sex poems,” but also because the incorporation of the computer into the eroticism of the text is a perversion. In her article on Pillage Laud’s queerness, she points out that the computer’s presence is not a gender-neutral one, noting that “‘Erín’ changed all the spat-out generic ‘he’s’ to ‘she’s,’ interrupting the engine’s patriarchal inclinations via a few short keystrokes” (234). This is just one example of the ways in which the collaboration is made perverted and queer for Zolf, and though I do not have the space to pay as much attention to her wild and thoughtful reading of the text, I think her conclusion is just as valid for my own work. Zolf insists that the perversion of Pillage Laud extends to the processes of meaning, logic, and subjectivity, and that “we can’t, and don’t want to, repair the gaps in presence and meaning and certainty and identity and authorship and testimony and archive and confession in and among these happily perverted pillaged lauds” (240). Here, Zolf reconciles Moure’s interest in making displacement visible while at the same time allowing for the mothertongue of silence to press itself into the text. In many ways, the digital elements of this text provide Moure with a unique opportunity to carry out this perversion.

In her recent collection of poetics essay, My Beloved Wager, Moure deals specifically with the ways that technology has integrated itself with the body, as erotic and as otherwise. “In this age,” she writes, “we as bodies, as coding devices, also extend over virtual spaces. Which is to say that, with computers and digital processing, any locality, including a body, is extensible over and through what we know as the old boundaries of physical space” (153-4). She suggests in this text that the integration of technology into our lives extends the body to the point that she wonders if it can realistically be considered a closed entity any longer. She asks:

Does the skin still demarcate the borders of identity when we work with a computer, when we no longer see our interlocutors? What is the effect of distance on the human body, on a woman’s body, on relations between women? Is distance also an inevitable effect, thus a fact of the text? In what ways does the text act like a skin, like a libidinal band (after Jean-François Lyotard)? (104)

Again, though here she is referring to another of her collections, A Frame of the Book, Moure’s attention to the technologized female body cannot be overlooked here. And indeed the sexualized female body in A Frame of the Book bears some resemblance to the fragmented, eroticized body that appears throughout the pages of Pillage Laud. She concedes that the sexualized body is a primary feature of her work, even if nearly twenty years ago she told Wallace that this was not an entirely effective feminist practice. She instead asserts: “I do write from a sexual and sexualized body, and it is from this body that I receive the world” (**). But, this body avoids the pitfalls of a Cixousian ecriture feminine because, as Moure herself notes, it is presented as diffuse by way of the Spinozan conception of the body. Spinoza, Moure tells us,

defines a body in two ways, which work in simultaneity: first, as composed of particles, an infinite number of particles in motion or at rest, thus defined not by forms but by velocities; second, as a capacity for affecting or being affected by other bodies, so that part of a body’s it-ness is its relationality.

The body thus defined, language’s relationship to this body—made excessively diffuse by its incorporation with technology via its computer generation—is rendered postanarchist, diffuse and porous, defined by its affective relationship within the common.

It is through this understanding of the body that I must read the eroticized feminine imagery throughout the text, and in particular the image of the vulva that appears repeatedly throughout. In some cases, the vulva is aligned with the text as in the embodiment examples cited above, as is the case with its first appearance in the line “So arbitrary a vulva” (15). In other cases, the vulva is represented as a stand-in for the writing subject who is made diffuse and complicated by the computer-generation of the text. This is the case on page forty-six when the text reads, “When vulva typed this, she sprung at you.” The appearance of the vulva that I most interested in appears on page sixty-eight, when the text reads “Don’t violas count as vulva zombies?” In this case, the truly diffuse nature of the eroticized female body in the art piece is made clear. The aural and visual similarities of “vulva” and “viola” are brought to the fore, immediately recalling the link between feminine sex and artistic creation that has its roots in a literary history that would seek to relegate feminine productivity to sexuality. This relationship has been reclaimed by the French feminists in a way that Moure, as I have mentioned earlier, typically finds unhelpful. And yet, here the connection is drawn again. But, this time the question is reversed, wondering if the art (in this case music, represented by the viola) is valid as a kind of female sexuality rather than the other way around. And none of this deals with the surprise appearance of the term “zombie,” a jarring inclusion in the text’s lexicon. The vulva zombie, I would argue, is the feminist cyborg writer par excellence, wherein the zombie is the perfect irreducible merger of the machine and the biological.[ii] Pillage Laud thus writes against the Law of the Father, embracing a diffuse potentials of signification to pervert the existing structures. The vulva zombie is, in many ways, the ultimate form of this perversion.


[i] I would like to note that from the first edition to the BookThug edition of Pillage Laud, a line break is added following this line, adding further emphasis. While I cannot even try to answer this question now, the change between editions makes me wonder: how or why has embodiment and the erotic materiality of the text become more significant between these two editions? what has changed in the world of digital or technologically produced texts that suggested that this line needed further emphasis?

[ii]For more on the zombie as a new, radical version of Haraway’s cyborg, see Sarah Juliet Lauro and Karen Embry’s “A Zombie Manifesto: The Nonhuman Condition in the Era of Advanced Capitalism.” boundary 2 35.1 (Spring 2008): 85-108.

4 thoughts on “Em(body)ment and Queer Sex

  1. There are lots of interesting and insightful points throughout the plateau, but, as a whole, I find it less successful. After reading through this plateau, I don’t really have a strong sense of what it’s arguing throughout; it’s been a long day of reading and child rearing, so it’s possible I’m just a bit jelly headed at the moment. But, overall, the plateau feels a bit too disjointed and discursive rather than argumentative and pointed. That’s not a major problem, but it’s worth you reading over the plateau to see if you’re actually saying what you intend. Some connective points might make the plateau more focused.

  2. No “yikes”! Just a request for you to go over it and see if it’s clear to you. If so, I might just be too thick to think (I am old, and I tire easily…).

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